Transforming Justice vs. Toughening Punishment Battle for Supremacy in 2018 Elections

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

The growing movement to reform the justice system will clash with efforts to be tougher on crime in this election year. The change movement is highlighted by deep-pocketed support for district attorney candidates who are inclined to see the justice system as too hard in meting out punishment, especially to people of color. On the other hand, a sense of rising crime is leading to an effort to reform the reforms passed by voters earlier in the decade that allow some arrested criminals to avoid punishment.

In a ground-up movement to change the system, liberal billionaire George Soros is funding a number of DA challengers throughout California. He supplied money to try and unseat district attorneys in Alameda, Sacramento and San Diego counties by replacing them with candidates more in line with the movement to end mass incarcerations and re-do the justice system.

Soros has been at this for a few years attempting to build a national movement to change the justice system. He has poured millions of dollars into district attorney races in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas with a good measure of success. His candidates have taken 11 of 13 races in which he was involved.

A number of law enforcement officials in California are pushing back against the effort, arguing that the candidates Soros supports would be harmful for public safety.

Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles wrote a scathing critique of the Soros backed candidate in San Diego County, Genevieve Jones-Wright: “His anointed candidate, to whom he has thrown a whopping $1.5 million, has announced she will never seek the death penalty, refuse to charge those under 25 with crimes that could lead to a life without parole sentence, not charge drug dealers who sell to cops, release accused criminals without bail, and wants to “decriminalize” low level offenses by refusing to prosecute them. For good measure, she also is in support of closing prisons altogether.”

The Stephon Clark shooting has energized the Sacramento effort to unseat D.A. Anne Marie Schubert, which Schubert’s office is still investigating. Nevertheless, it has led to Schubert’s opponent, Noah Phillip, capturing not only Soros money but also an endorsement from U.S. Senator Kamala Harris as the race and the change movement becomes high profile. Schubert’s office got more positive news in helping to capture the alleged Golden State Killer.

California voters will not only be weighing in on the debate over justice reform at the district attorney/county level but in statewide races as well.

As I reported from the BizFed Institute Attorney General debate, when the four leading candidates were asked to list their top priorities for the job, current state Insurance Commissioner and AG candidate Dave Jones declared justice reform as his top concern, while all his opponents named public safety as their top issue.

Meanwhile, the movement to alter Proposition 47 via the initiative route could end up in front of voters in November. Under Proposition 47, property thefts, forgeries, frauds, illegal drug use, and more under $950 are labeled consequence-free crimes because few arrested for such crimes serve any time, and perpetrators are aware of the nearly penalty free circumstances. The Prop 47 initiative amendment effort is intended to reform the parole system so violent felons are not released from prison early, strengthen theft laws that deal with serial thieves and organized theft rings, and expand DNA collection of convicted criminals.

Are Californians still tough on crime as they constantly showed at the polls in the 1980s and 1990s? The only recent test was contrary ballot initiatives on the death penalty in 2016. One measure would end the death penalty (Proposition 62); the second (Proposition 66) would carry out the death penalty punishment more swiftly. Proposition 66 prevailed, barely 51% to 49%. Proposition 62 was defeated by over 6 percentage points.

It seems California voters once again will have a chance to weigh in on different visions of how the justice system should work in this year’s elections.

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